Archive for the ‘Related Civil Litigation’ Category

Ashland Oil – The “FCPA’s” First Repeat “Offender”

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

In 1986 the SEC brought this civil injunctive action against Ashland Oil, Inc. (a Kentucky based oil refining company) and its Chairman and CEO Orin Atkins for engaging in conduct in violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

The complaint began by noting that in 1975, prior to the passage of the FCPA, the defendants consented to final judgments of permanent injunction enjoining them from using corporate funds “for unlawful political contributions or other similar unlawful purposes.”  As noted in “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” Ashland Oil’s payments to Albert Bernard Bongo, the President of Gabon, were among a group of payments that drew Congressional attention to the foreign corporate payments problem and motivated Congress to pass the FCPA in 1977.

The 1986 Ashland Oil enforcement action is thus notable as the first instance of an “FCPA” repeat “offender.”

As highlighted in more detail below, the enforcement action is also notable for the following reasons:  (i) the thing of value consisted of buying a “foreign official’s” interest in a largely worthless mine); (ii) the conduct at issue lead to an FCPA-related civil suit in which two terminated company employees were awarded $70 million in damages; and (iii) there was controversy both as to the DOJ’s and SEC’s handling of the conduct at issue.

In the 1986 action, the SEC alleged that Ashland Oil and Atkins “paid $25 million in principal plus approximately $4 million in interest, and by virtue of the acquisition of an interest in Midlands Chrome [a largely worthless Zimbabwe mine owned by the "foreign official" and his family], gave something of value to James Landon [a British national seconded (detailed) to the government of Oman who served as a special adviser to the Sultan of Oman on Omani intelligence and security matters] … for the purpose of inducing Landon to use his influence with the government of Oman … in order to assist Ashland in obtaining and retaining business with the government of Oman … namely certain business related to crude oil.”

According to the complaint, Atkins was told that Midlands Chrome “could be purchased from persons who could be sympathetic to Ashland’s desire to become a purchaser of crude oil from Oman.”  Even though a company lawyer advised that the transaction raised issues under the FCPA, the SEC alleged that the “board of directors of Ashland held a meeting at which Atkins presented for the Board’s approval the acquisition of Midland Chrome.”  According to the complaint, Atkins viewed the acquisition as a “high risk project” but one that had “potential of being more than offset by a potential crude oil contract …”.  According to the complaint, initial board meeting minutes show that Atkins said “the corporation was interested [in the Midlands Chrome acquisition] for the reason that it might thereby be enabled to obtain a contract to purchase crude oil from Oman” but that “this statement was deleted from the final version of the minutes at Atkins’ direction.”

Based on the above core conduct, in a detailed 35 page complaint, the SEC alleged three substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations.

Atkins resigned as chairman of Ashland in 1981 after an internal investigation into a number of questionable foreign payments.  According to media reports, when the 1986 matter was resolved Atkins issued a statement which read as follows.  “Although it would be my personal preference to litigate this matter, I have agreed to settle this action so that the company can put this lingering dispute behind it, and because to contest this matter would have involved disproportionate trouble and expense.”  For more on the life of Orin Atkins, see here and here.

In media reports, Richard Murphy, an SEC enforcement lawyer, said the Ashland case was significant because it demonstrated that the SEC will go beyond the traditional “cash cases” and scrutinize more complicated transactions to determine if they represent violations.

In 1995, Ashland Oil changed its name to Ashland Inc.

In an interesting side note, former Ashland employees Bill McKay and Harry Williams sued the company for breach of contract and wrongful discharge, asserting that Ashland’s pattern of corrupt practices amounted to a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law.   McKay alleged that he was terminated because he refused to take part in any bribery schemes and that he refused in subsequent investigations to hide Ashland’s conduct from officials at the IRS and SEC.  According to a 1989 ABA Journal report, “Williams had not been asked to take part in any foreign payments, but he’d become sympathetic to McKay’s efforts to change Ashland’s policy.”  According to the report,  Williams “made an anonymous phone call to the SEC and spoke freely about Ashland’s recent actions abroad.”  A jury returned a verdict of approximately $70 million.  According to the ABA report, McKay was awarded over $44.5 million, and the rest was apportioned to Williams.  According to the report, Ashland threatened to appeal and the parties settled for $25 million.

Set forth below, in pertinent part, is an interesting article published in the Washington Post on July 10, 1988. about the DOJ’s and SEC’s handling of the conduct at issue.

“Lawyers for two former executives who won a $ 69.5 million award from Ashland Oil Co. contend that their victory shows the Securities and Exchange Commission pulled its punches in handling charges of overseas bribery and other illegal conduct by Ashland.  The two former vice presidents had said in wrongful-dismissal lawsuits and in SEC testimony that Ashland paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials to get scarce crude oil and then tried to cover up the illegal conduct. They said they lost their jobs after refusing to participate in conspiracies, perjury and other crimes.  Last month, a U.S. District Court jury in Covington, Ky., awarded Bill E. McKay $ 44.6 million and Harry D. Williams $ 24.9 million after a 35-day trial. The jury said the liability should be shared by Ashland; its former chairman and chief executive, Orin E. Atkins; John R. Hall, who succeeded Atkins in 1981, and Richard W. Spears, senior vice president for human resources and law.”

“The SEC filed a much narrower civil lawsuit in July 1986 charging that Ashland and Atkins had bribed an official of Oman to get oil from the sultanate. The suit was filed in tandem with a consent decree, a final court judgment in which Ashland and Atkins neither admitted nor denied past violations while agreeing to face criminal penalties for future ones.”

“The jury and the SEC each had essentially the same evidence of possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977. The gap between the jury’s verdict and the SEC action shows that the SEC dealt with the matter too lightly, according to John R. McCall and Kenneth M. Robinson, the lawyers for McKay and Williams.  ‘I can understand how counsel for McKay and Williams are proud of their achievement, and they certainly have the right to crow about it,’ said SEC enforcement chief Gary G. Lynch. ‘But any criticism of the commission’s investigation, or of the results that we achieved, is simply unwarranted.’”

“Punitive damages accounted for only $ 3 million of the awards to McKay and Williams. Compensatory damages were tripled — to $66.5 million — for conspiring to violate, and for violating, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO makes it unlawful for any person associated with an enterprise affecting commerce to lead or to join in ‘conduct of [the] enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.’  The jury found that the three individual defendants had all conducted or participated in ‘a pattern of racketeering activity’ principally through multiple violations of the FCPA antibribery section and of a law prohibiting travel for the purpose of violating the section.”

[...]

“The SEC’s 1986 lawsuit, which followed months of negotiations with Ashland’s law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, named only one person paid by the oil company, James T.W. (Tim) Landon of Oman, as a foreign government official under the FCPA’s antibribery provisions. The complaint also alleged only one bribe, described by Ashland as a $ 25 million investment in a Landon-controlled chromium mine in Rhodesia.  But the jury found that Ashland, ‘with corrupt intent to bribe,’  had made payments to three figures it said were foreign officials under the FCPA: Landon and Yehia Omar of Oman, and Hassan Y. Yassin of Saudi Arabia (who also has operated a consulting firm in McLean).  With the same corrupt intent, the jury said, Ashland had made payments to a fourth recipient, Sadiq Attia, ‘knowing or having reason to know that’ all or a portion of the money — $ 17 million — ‘would be used to bribe a government official of Abu Dhabi.’”

“The SEC complaint and consent decree did not mention Yehia Omar or cite any Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia payments.  Last December, SEC Chairman David S. Ruder told Senate Banking Committee Chairman William Proxmire (D-Wis.) that the Division of Enforcement ‘concluded that the evidence was … insufficient to support further charges of violations’ of the FCPA. In an interview after the jury verdict, Lynch said ‘there was not sufficient evidence that we felt comfortable we could prevail’ if charges were brought based on Ashland payments to Omar. ‘Even before we sat down to negotiate, we had decided privately to exclude Omar, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia from the consent decree.  ‘It was clear to us that the Landon transaction was the strongest, because we believed we could establish that Landon was a government official at the time the chrome transaction occurred.’ Lynch said. He called a multiple-count complaint unnecessary.  ‘We were suing for injunctive relief,’ and ‘we could get it with Landon,’ he said. ‘There was no need to push and take on a litigation risk in a case that was much less certain.’  He extended this argument to the omission of the Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia cases.”

“But lawyers McCall and Robinson disagreed. ‘The finest judicial scrutiny our American judicial system can provide has now determined that the earlier government efforts were incomplete,’ McCall said. It’s ‘ridiculous’ for the SEC to claim the evidence was insufficient to convince a jury that bribery far beyond that which it alleged hadn’t occurred, he said.”

“Lynch also defended the SEC’s decision not to ask a federal court to find Ashland and Atkins had violated a 1975 consent decree and to hold them in criminal contempt.  ‘We did have a concern about meeting the higher burden of proof in order to prove criminal contempt,’ Lynch said. [...] One difficulty in going the criminal route was that ‘the major thrust’ of the 1975 decrees involved unlawful political contributions, and ‘these were foreign bribes,’ Lynch said.”

“But the lawyers for McKay and Williams dismissed this explanation. They pointed out that the 1975 consent decrees prohibited false or fictitious bookkeeping entries, and said the $ 25 million Oman item that the SEC called a bribe, as well as the Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia payments, all were recorded by Ashland as ordinary outlays.  ‘It was like shooting ducks in a barrel,’ Robinson said. ‘There was no answer that any Ashland official could give on the stand to explain the fraud that was in the documents that they wrote. And how the SEC could miss that is beyond description.’  ‘The SEC should have seen it. These were indictable offenses … I don’t see the evidence that the SEC even slapped Ashland’s wrist. They just closed the book by executing another consent decree — a promise to pay, which is all that it is.’”

“Arthur F. Mathews, who was an SEC deputy enforcement chief in 1969, said in an interview that ‘in the horse-trading for not litigating,’ Cravath, Swaine ’got the staff to strike Yehia Omar …  If I had to guess, they did not include Yehia Omar in their action because they thought it was a toss-up whether you could prove it, and they gave it up in the bargain.’”

“McCall said the SEC staff may well have done all it could have, particularly in light of the Reagan administration’s apparent reluctance to enforce the FCPA’s antibribery provisions.’ The SEC commissioners, for example, voted 3 to 2 to reject the division’s initial recommendation for a lawsuit that named only Landon as the recipient of a bribe. Only after the division reargued its case did the commission reverse itself, allowing Lynch to file the lawsuit.  Lynch said the SEC disregarded a report by an outside counsel who concluded that the Oman transactions had not violated the FCPA or the 1975 consent decree. Williams and McKay had challenged the independence of the outsider, Pittsburgh attorney Charles J. Queenan. Queenan is a friend of Cravath, Swaine presiding partner and Ashland director Samuel C. Butler, who submitted the report to the SEC as the work of an independent counsel.  ‘We did not accept the conclusion that it was an ‘independent counsel’ report,” Lynch said. The SEC staff ‘did our own very thorough investigation of the matter,’ he said. ‘It is clear that if we had accepted the Queenan report’s findings, we would not have filed an action.”

[...]

“Sen. Proxmire, who monitors FCPA enforcement, also has raised questions about the Justice Department’s role in the Ashland case. The department had full access to the SEC’s files from the start of the SEC staff investigation in May 1983. Last October, after a Washington Post series on Ashland’s payments to overseas consultants, Proxmire asked the department if it had investigated the matter and if ‘it has concluded that violations of the FCPA have taken place.’ If the conclusion was that there’d been no violations, ‘I would like an explanation of the rationale underlying such a judgment,’ Proxmire said. ‘If the department has not investigated these allegations, I request that you do so and let me know the results.’  Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton said on Jan. 20 that he would respond when he received a report from the fraud section of the Criminal Division.  On June 20, Proxmire, having heard nothing more for six months, sent Attorney General Edwin Meese III a news story on the jury verdict in Kentucky and asked ‘whether the Department of Justice will now initiate a criminal action.’  If not, Proxmire said he wanted to know why. A department spokesman said a response is being prepared.”

The FCPA’s First Mega Enforcement Action

Monday, March 18th, 2013

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

The year was 1982 and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was nearing five years old.  Up to this point, enforcement was sparse and focused on single-actor type cases.  See here, here, here, here and here for FCPA enforcement actions up to this point.

In 1982, the first FCPA mega-case was brought and it involved five corporate defendants and twelve individual defendants.

Specifically, in October 1982, the DOJ brought an indictment (here) against:

  • Crawford Enterprises Inc. (“CEI”) (a Houston based private company that sold compression equipment systems to oil and gas companies);
  • Donald Crawford (CEI’s Chairman and sole shareholder and, at certain relevant times, CEI’s President);
  • William Hall (CEI’s Executive Vice President and, at certain relevant times, CEI’s President);
  • Ricardo Beltran (President and majority shareholder of Grupo Industrial Delta, a Mexican corporation);
  • Mario Gonzalez (a U.S. citizen who assisted Grupo Delta and CEI communicate with certain alleged foreign officials);
  • Andres Garcia (a U.S. citizen who assisted Grupo Delta and CEI communicate with certain alleged foreign officials);
  • George McLean (Vice President of Solar Turbines International (“Solar”), a division of International Harvester Company);
  • Luis Uriarte (the Latin American Regional Manager of Solar);
  • Al Eyester (President of Ruston Gas Turbines “Ruston”);and
  • James Smith (Vice President of Ruston).

The indictment charged a conspiracy between the defendants and others to pay money to Mexican foreign officials and Grupo Delta “knowing that all or a portion of such money would be offered, given or promised directly or indirectly” to foreign officials for the purpose of influencing the acts and decisions of the officials “in their official capacity, and inducing them to use their influence with Pemex so as to affect and influence the acts and decisions of Pemex in order to assist” Crawford, the other defendants, and others in “obtaining or retaining business with Pemex.”

The indictment alleges that Petroleos Mexicanos (“Pemex”) was the “national oil company wholly owned by the Government of the Republic of Mexico and was responsible for the exploration and production of all of the oil and natural gas resources of Mexico and for acquiring the equipment, including compression equipment systems, necessary for such exploration and production.”

The indictment alleged that “Pemex was an instrumentality of a foreign government” and that two individuals (Ignacio de Leon and Jesus Chavarria) were “foreign officials” based on their positions of “subdirector of Pemex responsible for the purchase of goods and equipment on behalf of Pemex” and “subdirector of Pemex responsible for the exploration and production of Mexican oil and natural gas.”

[As an aside, it should be noted that in the recent "foreign official" challenges, the DOJ has argued that its charging decision in the Crawford cases as to Pemex demonstrated the validity of its position that employees of SOEs are "foreign officials" under the FCPA.  For instance, the recent FCPA Guidance states that the SEC and DOJ ‘‘have pursued cases involving instrumentalities since the time of the FCPA’s enactment’’ and that the ‘‘second-ever FCPA case charged by the DOJ’’ involved bribes to executives of the Mexican national oil company.  

However being consistently wrong, does not make one right and, as noted in my article "Grading the FCPA Guidance," missing from the Guidance discussion or associated citations on this issue, is any reference to the fact that George McLean, the only defendant in the series of related cases to put DOJ to its burden of proof at trial, was found not guilty by the jury.]

The conspiracy charge alleged that CEI and Crawford agreed to pay and paid the “foreign officials” “bribes equalling approximately 4.5% of each Pemex purchase order for compression equipment systems in which” CEI participated and that “it was further a part of the conspiracy” that CEI and Crawford arranged with defendants Beltran, Gonzalez and Garcia that Grupo Delta would: “(a) hold itself out as the Mexican agent of CEI, while in truth acting primarily as the conduit for the bribe payments; (b) disguise the bribe payments as ‘commissions’ due by providing to CEI false and fictitious invoice for each payment received; and (c) provide Gonzalez and Garcia with a base of operations from which to perform their function as middlemen and channels of communications between the co-conspirators” and the foreign officials.”

The indictment further alleged that the defendants used the term “folks” as a code word for the “foreign officials” “in order to conceal from others their true identities as Pemex officials and the existence of the bribe scheme.”  The indictment alleged that “in order to create a pool of money with which to pay bribes” CEI along with Solar and Ruston “submitted to Pemex bids which were inflated to include a 4.5% markup for the “folks.”

The indictment alleged that CEI, along with Solar and Ruston received purchase orders from Pemex for compression equipment systems in the approximate amount of $225 million and that approximately $10 million in bribe payments were made to the “foreign officials” as part of the bribery scheme.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, the indictment also alleged approximately fifty substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations against various combinations of the defendants.  The indictment also charged CEI, Crawford and Hall with an obstruction charge based on allegations that the defendants destroyed certain documents relevant to a grand jury subpoena.

Media reports described the action as the first major criminal investigation under the FCPA.  According to the reports, in November 1982, CEI, Crawford, Hall, Garcia, McLean, Uriate, and Eyster pleaded not guilty.  Crawford and Hall stated that while commission payments were made to Grupo, no such bribes were paid to Pemex officials.

CEI released a statement which said that “despite vigorous and repeated denials by Crawford Enterprises of any wrongdoing in connection with these allegations, the investigation has continued for nearly 3.5 years.”  The company said that Pemex and the Mexican government had looked into similar charges and found no wrongdoing in the award of Pemex contracts to Crawford.  The company’s statement further indicated as follows.  “Four factors accounted for CEI’s success in becoming one of Pemex’s principal gas compression contractors:  its proven experience in the industry; its aggressive delivery schedules that other firms simply could not match; its maintenance and repair of equipment installed in Mexico; and the lower costs to Pemex as a result of all the above.”

Prior to the above-reference October 1982 indictment, in September 1982 the DOJ charged Ruston Gas Turbines Inc., C.E. Miller Corporation and Charles Miller based on the same core set of allegations.  The DOJ charged Ruston Gas Turbines in a one count criminal information (see here) with a substantive FCPA violation and the company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a $750,000 fine (see here).  The DOJ charged C.E. Miller Corporation and Miller (President, Chairman of the Board, and majority shareholder of the company) in a one count criminal information charging substantive FCPA violations and aiding and abetting FCPA violations. (See here).  C.E. Miller Corporation and Miller both pleaded guilty and the company was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine and placed on probation for three years (see here) and Miller was sentenced to three years probation (see here).

Prior to the above-referenced September 1982 charges, in May 1981 the DOJ charged Gary Bateman (an International Sales Manager for CEI and also Chairman of the Board, President and sole shareholder of Applied Process Products Overseas, Inc.) in a multi-count information (see here) charging various misdemeanor violations of the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act concerning the transportation of money to Mexico in connection with the bribery scheme.  Bateman pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a civil penalty of approximately $330,000.  In January 1983, the DOJ also charged Applied Process Products Overseas, Inc. in a one-count information (here) charging a substantive FCPA violation based on the same core set of allegations.  The company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.  (See here).

After the above-referenced October 1982 charges, in November 1982 the DOJ also filed a criminal information against International Harvester (see here).  The information was based on the same core set of allegations as set forth above and based on the conduct of its employees McLean and Uriarte.  International Harvester pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA (see here) and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and agreed to also pay $40,000 civil cost reimbursement.

The DOJ’s offer of proof in the International Harvester case (see here) contained the following statement.

“After Solar had agreed to participate and to cooperate with CEI, and pursuant to the 1977 enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [International Harvester's long-standing Policy on Conflicts of Interest and Ethical Business Conduct] was revised and supplemented to affirm that improper payments prohibited by the Act were also prohibited as a matter of company policy.  In 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980, through an annual audit process, each International Harvester managerial employee was required to certify his or her compliance and to report any action that might conflict with company policy for review by the Office of the General Counsel and corrective action, if warranted.  During those years, Uriarte and McLean each reported in the annual audit process that he was aware of International Harvester policy and had taken no action in violation thereof.  Insofar as each of them participated in the conspiracy described herein, he accordingly concealed from International Harvester his participation and the participation of the Solar Turbine Division.  Neither Solar employee held a position which required him to report to International Harvester management.  There has been no evidence that any officers, directors or management of International Harvester knew of or participated in the conspiracy charged.”

In January 1983, the DOJ charged Marquis King (an officer and director of C.E. Miller) in a one-count information charging a misdemeanor violation of the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act concerning the transportation of money to Mexico in connection with the bribery scheme. (See here).  King pleaded guilty and he was sentenced to 14 months probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.  (See here).

In June 1985, CEI pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and 46 substantive FCPA violations.  (See here).  CEI agreed to pay a $10,000 criminal fine as to the conspiracy charge and $75,000 as to each of the 46 substantive charges for a total fine amount of $3,460,000.  At the same time, the following defendants pleaded nolo contendere:  Donald Crawford, Al Eyster, James Smith, Andres Garcia, and William Hall.  Crawford pleaded nolo contendere to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and 46 substantive FCPA violations and was ordered to pay a total fine amount of $309,000 (see here); Eyster pleaded nolo contendere to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and 41 substantive FCPA violations and was ordered to pay a total fine amount of $5,000 (see here); Smith pleaded nolo contendere to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and 44 substantive FCPA violations and was ordered to pay a total fine amount of $5,000 (see here); Garcia pleaded nolo contendere to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and 46 substantive FCPA violations and was ordered to pay a total fine amount of $75,000 (see here); and Hall pleaded nolo contendere to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and 32 substantive FCPA violations and was ordered to pay a total fine amount of $150,000 (see here).

That leaves McLean and Uriarte.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Of further note from this enforcement action, Pemex filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court in Houston against Crawford, CEI, the two foreign officials, and twelve others in a bid to recover monies allegedly extracted from Pemex.  In its complaint, Pemex sought several million dollars in both compensatory and punitive damages from Crawford and the other entities based upon the same conduct that was alleged in the DOJ enforcement actions.  Pemex’s suit was based upon alleged violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act,  the Robinson-Patman Act, and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  Pemex also asserted causes of actions based upon commercial bribery and common law fraud.  Various of the defendants in the civil action sought relevant documents from Pemex and it was ultimately held in contempt for not producing the documents.  For additional background on this case, see 643 F.Supp. 370; 826 F.2d 392.

An FCPA Enforcement Action That Led To A Supreme Court Decision

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

The first Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action to involve business conduct in Nigeria was a 1985 enforcement action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. (a privately held New Jersey avionics supply firm) and Harry Carpenter (Chairman and CEO of the company).

The criminal informations filed against the company (here) and Carpenter (here) alleged one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and contains the same concise allegation.

“On or about December 21, 1982 … W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. … used a means and instrumentality of interstate commerce, that is, a Western Union international telex from Fairfield, New Jersey, to New York, New York, to order Standard Chartered Bank of New York to pay $580,973 to the Bank of New York for the account of Bank of Commerce and Credit International in Luxembourg corruptly in furtherance of an offer, payment, promise to pay and authorization of the payment of money to: (a) a person, that is Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindale through two companies, Deriks and Los, Panamanian bearer share corporations, while having reason to believe that a portion of such money would be offered, given, or promised, directly or indirectly to foreign officials, Nigerian Air Force officers, the Party of Nigeria, the Minister of Nigeria and other government defense personnel for the purpose of influencing the acts and decisions of such foreign officials and others in their official capacity and inducing them to use their influence within the Government of Nigeria in order to obtain a contract for flight training equipment for W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc.”

An offer of proof filed in Carpenter’s case contains the following additional information.

Carpenter learned of the opportunity to sell various equipment to the Nigerian Air Force and he “believed Kirkpatrick needed an agent in Nigeria to assist in negotiating and obtaining the contract.”  “On recommendation of two British businessmen, Carpenter contracted a London solicitor, who in turn put him in touch with Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindele, a Nigerian national.”  According to the offer of proof, “Akindele offered to assist Kirkpatrick by serving as its local agent in Nigeria.  Carpenter negotiated an agreement with Akindele which provided that Kirkpatrick would pay a commission equal to twenty percent of the contracted price of [the equipment] to two Panamanian bearer share corporations, which were set up, and controlled by Akindele to receive payments from Kirkpatrick.”

W.S. Kirkpatrick Inc. pleaded guilty and was fined $75,000 (see here) and Carpenter pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine (see here).  Noted white collar criminal defense attorney Theodore Wells (here) represented Carpenter.

See here for the DOJ’s release which notes that the contract at issue was worth $10.8 million.

After the DOJ enforcement action, Environmental Tectonics Corporation (“ETC” –  an unsuccessful bidder for certain of the Nigerian contracts which first brought the problematic conduct to the attention of the Nigerian Air Force and the U.S. Embassy) brought a civil action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Carpenter, Akindele and others seeking damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the Robinson-Patman Act and the New Jersey Anti-Racketeering Act.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the action was barred by the act of state doctrine.  The district court granted the motion and concluded that the act of state doctrine applies “if the inquiry presented for judicial determination includes the motivation of a sovereign act which would result in embarrassment to the sovereign or constitute interference in the conduct of foreign policy of the United States.”  See 659 F.Supp. 1381.    The court held that ETC’s suit had to be dismissed because, in order to prevail, it would have to show that “the defendants or certain or them intended to wrongfully influence the decision to award the Nigerian Contract by payment of a bribe, that the Government of Nigeria, its officials or other representatives knew of the offered consideration for awarding the Nigerian Contract to Kirkpatrick, that the bribe was actually received or anticipated and that ‘but for’ the payment or anticipation of the payment of the bribe, ETC would have been awarded the Nigerian Contract.”

The Third Circuit reversed finding that application of the act of state doctrine was unwarranted given the facts of the case.  In particular, the Third Circuit found persuasive a letter to the district court by the State Department legal adviser which stated that a judicial inquiry into the purpose behind the act of a foreign sovereign would not produce the ‘unique embarrassment, and the particular interference with the conduct of foreign affairs that may result from the judicial determination that a foreign sovereign’s acts are invalid.”

Defendants then appealed to the Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case.

In 1990, Justice Scalia authored the opinion of a unanimous Supreme Court.  See 493 U.S. 400.  The opinion begins as follows.  “In this case, we must decide whether the act of state doctrine bars a court in the United States from entertaining a cause of action that does not rest upon the asserted invalidity of an official act of a foreign sovereign, but that does require imputing to foreign officials an unlawful motivation (the obtaining of bribes) in the performance of such an official act.”

The Court concluded that the “factual predicate for application of the act of state doctrine does not exist” because nothing in the case required the Court to declare invalid the official act of a foreign sovereign.  The Court reasoned that “neither the claim nor any asserted defense requires a determination that Nigeria’s contract with Kirkpatrick International was, or was not, effective,” that ETC “was not trying to undo or disregard the governmental action,” but rather that ETC was only trying to “obtain damages from private parties who had procured” the contract.

In short, the Court stated that the act of state doctrine “has no application to the present case because the validity of no foreign sovereign act is at issue.”

Friday Roundup

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Beverage industry news, a long-running FCPA-related civil case settles, checking in on the World Bank, survey says, and on-point.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Beverage Industry News

Disclosure by Central European Distribution Corp.

As noted in this Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post, Central European Distribution Corp. (here - one of the world’s largest vodka producers) recently made an FCPA disclosure.  In this filing, the company (a Delaware company headquartered in New Jersey) stated as follows.

“It has [...] been determined that there has been a breach of the books and records provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of the United States and potentially other breaches of the FCPA. It was determined that payments or gifts were made in a foreign jurisdiction in which the Company operates, and that there was a failure to maintain documentation in respect of certain of these payments or gifts adequate to establish whether there was a valid business purpose in making the payments or gifts. Furthermore, our management also identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting regarding the implementation of our policy on compliance with applicable laws as of December 31, 2011. Our conclusion that this deficiency is a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting is not based on misstatements in our historical consolidated financial statements or our consolidated financial statements as of and for the period ended December 31, 2011, but instead on the determination that we did not design or maintain sufficient policies, procedures, controls, communications or training to deter or prevent the risk of violations of law, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) of the United States.”

Beam Inc. Investigating Possible FCPA Violations

In other beverage industry news, the Times of India reports (here) that Beam Inc.  (here) “has initiated investigations into whistleblower allegations of financial misdemeanours at its India unit.”  According to the report, the investigation covers possible violations of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

As noted in this previous post, in July 2011 the SEC brought an FCPA enforcement action against beverage company Diageo PLC.

Alba-Alcoa Civil Case Settles

Earlier this week, Alcoa announced (here) that it “entered into a settlement agreement with Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C. (“Alba”) resolving a civil lawsuit that had been pending … since 2008.  Without admitting any liability, Alcoa agreed to make a cash payment to Alba of $85 million payable in two installments.”

Alba was represented by Akin Gump which put out this release.   The release notes that “the settlement arises out of a claim brought by Alba under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act against Alcoa, an Alcoa subsidiary and Canadian businessman Victor Dahdaleh alleging a “pattern of corrupt activities by the defendants and officials in Bahrain in order to obtain long-term contract and pricing advantages in the sale of raw materials.”  As noted in the release,  ‘the case was stayed for nearly four years while the U.S. Department of Justice pursued a criminal investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” and the settlement “represents the first time that a foreign-owned corporation has successfully sued a U.S. company in a federal court to recover losses suffered due to allegations of corrupt activity. “

As highlighted in this previous post, Alcoa’s agent (Dahdaleh) has been criminally charged in the U.K.

The DOJ and SEC’s investigation of Alcoa concerning the conduct at issue in the civil lawsuit is ongoing.

In its most recent quarterly filing, Alcoa stated as follows.

The DOJ’s and the SEC’s investigations are ongoing. Alcoa has been in dialogue with both the DOJ and the SEC and is exploring whether a settlement can be reached. Given the uncertainty regarding whether a settlement can be reached and what the terms of any such settlement would be, Alcoa is unable to estimate a range of reasonably possible loss with regard to any such settlement, However, Alcoa expects the amount of any such settlement would be material in a particular period to Alcoa’s results of operations. If a settlement cannot be reached, Alcoa will proceed to trial with the DOJ and the SEC and under those circumstances is unable to predict an outcome or to estimate a range of reasonably possible loss. There can be no assurance that the final outcome of the government’s investigations would not have a material adverse effect on Alcoa.”

World Bank

The World Bank’s fraud and corruption unit, the Integrity Vice Presidency (INT), recently released its annual report (see here for the full report). This release states as follows.  The INT “concluded another strong year in its preventive and investigative efforts, with 83 debarments of wrongdoing firms, new agreements with national law enforcement authorities to expand the impact of INT’s investigations, numerous referrals to law enforcement agencies, and robust preventive efforts to help ensure Bank-financed projects deliver results.”

Survey Says

This past July, FTI Consulting conducted an on-line survey of 571 executives in UK businesses in board-level, senior management and middle management positions.  As noted in this release, among the survey findings were the following.

  • 40% of UK businesses surveyed think the current economic climate is encouraging risk taking around compliance with the UK Bribery Act
  • 27% do not believe the government will prosecute offenders
  • 25% of board-level employees surveyed might breach Bribery Act regulations to win business
  • 63% of respondents believe the UK Bribery Act eventually will have a positive effect on prospects for UK business

Spot-On

In the aftermath of the Wall Street Journal’s FCPA Inc.: Business of Bribery series (see here), the WSJ published the following letter to the editor from Steve Travis of Mercer Island, WA.

“The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it illegal to offer money or a gift to foreign government officials or employees to gain a business advantage. Yet in the U.S., every business worthy of its name has lobbyists whose sole job in Washington, D.C., is to do exactly that: give money or gifts to our elected officials or employees of our government in a position to steer contracts their way. Does anyone really think that things like flying government officials around on company private jets or putting them up in private homes on vacations don’t come with a quid pro quo? Who is naive enough to think that contributions to election campaigns don’t come with strings attached?”

Spot-on – see here for a prior post (as well as numerous previous posts embedded therein).

*****

A good weekend to all.

 

Nice Pay Day, But What Did You Accomplish?

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

When I published “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement” in 2010 (see here) the trend of FCPA-inspired tag-a-long private civil suits was in its early stages.  Thus, the section of my article – why the facade of FCPA enforcement matters – did not include discussion of such suits.

Now that the trend is clear, add FCPA-inspired private civil suits to the list of reasons why the facade of FCPA enforcement matters.

The game is very predictable.  In the days and weeks following an FCPA enforcement action, or even a company disclosing or otherwise being the subject of FCPA scrutiny, the suits and/or “investigations” by plaintiffs firm will start to mount

In this prior post, I asked whether FCPA-inspired civil suits have a purpose or a parasitic.  I stated that when a company’s FCPA violations are found to be condoned or encouraged by the board or executive officers, such plaintiff causes of action would seem to be warranted.  But these situations are rare in FCPA enforcement actions.  This prior post detailed June 2011 Congressional testimony on behalf of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform that touched upon FCPA-civil litigation and I generally agree with the criticisms made of this “piggyback-litigation phenomenon.”

Several prior posts (here and here) profile how such derivative claims seldom, if ever, get past the motion to dismiss stage.  Yet, several companies make the business judgment to  settle such claims for what amounts to nuisance value for the company, but which represents a handsome pay day for plaintiff’s counsel for doing and accomplishing next to nothing.

Two recent Foreicgn Corrupt Practices Act related civil settlements prove this point.

In July, Halliburton announced here that a Texas state court issued an order preliminarily approving the proposed settlement of a derivative claim concerning a variety of misconduct, including Bonny Island, Nigeria conduct giving rise to the previous FCPA enforcement action against Halliburton and its related entities.

Pursuant to the proposed settlement, within 90 days of a final settlement date, Halliburton’s board agreed to implement various corporate governance and internal control revisions.  The items most related to FCPA compliance should not be hard to accomplish because pursuant to the 2009 FCPA DOJ/SEC settlement, Halliburton already was under an existing obligation, including through engagement of a compliance monitor, to implement a host of FCPA related compliance enhancements.

Yet pursuant to the proposed settlement agreement, for its innovative work (that is my term), Plaintiffs’ counsel in the derivative action will seek approval of its fees and expenses not to exceed $7 million and Halliburton will not oppose such fees and will pay them through its insurance carriers.

Likewise, Johnson & Johnson recently announced (here) a proposed settlement of a derivative claim concerning a variety of misconduct, including the conduct giving rise to its 2011 FCPA enforcement action.  As detailed in this prior post, pursuant to the settlement via a DPA, the company is already subject to enhanced compliance obligations related to the FCPA.  The prior post noted that such enhanced compliance obligations were unusual and surprising given the DOJ’s conclusion that J&J already generally had “effective” policies and procedures.  In the words of the DOJ “J&J had a pre-existing compliance and ethics program that was effective and the majority of problematic operations globally resulted from insufficient implementation of the J&J compliance and ethics program in acquired companies.”

Yet, along comes the Plaintiffs’ firms with a derivative action and pursuant to the settlement, J&J has agreed to reimburse Plaintiffs’ counsel in an amount not exceeding $10 million and to pay approximately $450,000 in its expenses.

Like many things in this new era of FCPA enforcement, FCPA-civil related suits have, in many cases, spiraled out of control.  Yet with many, including now Plaintiffs firms, with a vested financial interest in seeing the status quo prevail, it is doubtful any meaningful change is on the horizon.

Yet the question can be asked, do FCPA civil-related suits accomplish anything?  Do such suits serve a purpose or are they parasitic?  Is this another reason why the “facade” of FCPA enforcement matters.